A NEW AND GLORIOUS ARLINGTON
Four years ago this month, an electrical fire broke out at arlington Park racetrack in Arlington Heights, Ill., and burned the grandstand and clubhouse to the ground. The once-glorious Arlington track became a tents-and-bleachers operation with shrinking attendance. Its plummeting betting handle cost the state millions in tax revenue.
On June 28, after 19 months of construction, a new facility called Arlington International Racecourse opened on the spot where the old track had stood for 58 years. The new Arlington, built by owner Dick Duchossois at a cost estimated at $120 million, is spectacular. "I've seen virtually every major track in the world, and this one is light-years ahead of them," says Nick Clarke, managing director of the International Racing Bureau. Says jockey Pat Day, who won the first two races at the new track, "It kind of takes your breath away."
The 25,000-seat grandstand, though smaller than the old one by about 5,000 seats, is far more luxurious. Box seats have teak railings, and most floors are marble. There are eight restaurants, a picnic area for 6,000, sky boxes, waterfalls and a five-tiered balcony overlooking a European-style paddock. Fans can learn about racing at an interactive computer and exhibit center, and they can admire a larger-than-life-sized bronze sculpture of John Henry edging his rival The Bart in the thrilling finish of the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981.
The old Arlington was known for innovation and speed. It was the first track to install an all-electric tote board (1933) and to air-condition its grandstand (1946), and it was the site of Dr. Fager's 1:32[1/5] mile in 1968. a world record that still stands. The new facility continues those traditions. Its polyurethane-shield-ed track railings are said to be the safest in existence, and the scoreboard shows an unprecedented variety of wagering information. The one-mile turf course and 1?-mile dirt oval have both been resurfaced and appear to be fast.
Duchossois wanted to build a parklike, almost Disneylandesque facility, not, he says, "a glass-and-steel, monument-style box," and he has succeeded. He hopes the track will draw a million spectators during its 95-day racing season, which on Sept. 3 will feature the ninth running of the Arlington Million.